On Dec. 30, a Border Patrol agent shot 20-year old Guillermo Martinez Rodriguez, a native of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, as he and his brother, Agustin Martinez Rodriguez, were fleeing back into Mexico. The brothers had sought to enter the US through the Zapata de Tijuana canyon but reversed course after being discovered by Border Patrol agents. An agent fired at them as they were returning to Mexico, hitting Guillermo Martinez with a bullet in the back near the wall separating Tijuana from San Diego. Agustin Martinez took his brother to a Red Cross facility in Tijuana, Baja California, where after 16 hours in intensive care and two operations, Guillermo Martinez died on Dec. 31. (La Jornada, Mexico, Jan. 2; AP, Jan. 4)
In a Jan. 3 phone interview, Border Patrol spokesperson Todd Fraser said an agent had “come under attack by an assailant who was throwing rocks.” The agent “fired back in self-defense,” Fraser claimed. Then, he said, the migrant climbed back over the fence and fled into Mexico. (New York Times, Jan. 4)
The killing unleashed a media firestorm in Mexico, forcing an unusually strong response from the Mexican government. On Jan. 2, the Foreign Relations Secretariat issued a statement condemning the use of force against migrants. The Baja California Attorney General’s office said it would ask US authorities for a prompt report on the shooting, and would ask the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General to investigate. (LJ, Jan. 3) In a morning press conference on Jan. 4, Mexican presidential spokesperson Ruben Aguilar called the shooting “very serious and absolutely regrettable,” a killing “which we cannot allow to occur.” Later on Jan. 4, President Vicente Fox Quesada promised to seek justice in the case. (Houston Chronicle, Jan. 5; LJ, Jan. 5) The Mexican federal Attorney General’s office has taken over the case from Baja California state agents, who determined Martinez was shot in the back at a distance of between six and 17 feet.
Border Patrol spokesperson Raul Martinez, based in the agency’s San Diego office, told AP that shooting victim Guillermo Martinez was “a known people smuggler who had been detained 11 times prior.” The Border Patrols San Diego office subsequently refused to comment on that statement and forwarded all inquiries to Washington, where US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Michael Friel said only: “We are fully cooperating with the San Diego Police Department’s investigation, and we are providing by their request any criminal or immigration records we have.” (San Diego Union-Tribune, Jan. 5) On Jan. 4, US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack called the killing “tragic” and promised that the US government would respond via diplomatic channels to a formal note of protest sent by the Mexican foreign ministry.
The Border Patrol agent who fired the shot was apparently Faustino Campos, who is of Mexican origin. Nicholas Coates, a spokesperson for the Border Patrols San Diego office, confirmed that the bullet that killed Martinez was a 40-point hollow-point “dum-dum” bullet, designed to expand on impact. The use of hollow-point munitions, which cause much more severe hemorrhaging than solid bullets, is banned by international treaties. “All Border Patrol agents carry hollow-point bullets,” said Coates. (LJ, Jan. 5)
The Mexican Consulate in Laredo, Texas, is meanwhile pushing for a fuller investigation in the Dec. 14 drowning death of Carlos Martinez, a Mexican citizen who was swept into the Rio Grande (Bravo) near Laredo after his inner tube reportedly was flipped by the rotor wash of a low-flying Border Patrol helicopter. Martinez and a 15-year old companion were trying to cross back into Mexico following a confrontation in which Border Patrol agents allegedly used pepper spray. The incident “is still under investigation” by the inspector general’s office at the Border Patrol, said agency spokesperson Mike Herrera. (HC, Jan. 5) On Jan. 5 La Jornada reported another migrant drowning in the Rio Grande; the unidentified man’s body was found on the Mexican side of the river in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. (LJ, Jan. 5)
From Immigration News Briefs, Jan. 6
See our last post on the border crisis.